It is only fitting that an incredible season in Top Fuel, one loaded with a multitude of standout competitors, is slated for an epic finish at this weekend’s 55th annual Auto Club NHRA Finals at historic Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.
While a handful of drivers are still mathematically alive heading into the final race of the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship playoffs, the world champion will likely be decided by four star participants: reigning NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world champ Steve Torrence, 2017 Top Fuel champ Brittany Force, longtime veteran Doug Kalitta, who is seeking his first championship, and Steve’s father, Billy, who has come alive in the Countdown with two wins.
S. Torrence currently holds the slight advantage with a 16-point lead over Force in his 11,000-horsepower Capco Contractors dragster. He leads Kalitta by 55 points and his father by 86, knowing full well it is shaping up to be a wild weekend in Pomona to close out the 2019 season.
“There are lots of different scenarios, but if we just go out and win the race, everything else will take care of itself,” Torrence said. “Look, we know from experience what can happen out here, but if we execute our game plan, it’ll be hard to beat us. I know these Capco boys are gonna give me a good race car and my job is to bring it home.”
S. Torrence (Top Fuel), J.R. Todd (Funny Car), Tanner Gray (Pro Stock) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the race that will be televised on FOX Sports 1 (FS1), including live finals coverage starting at 4:00 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, Nov. 17. It is the sixth race in the Countdown to the Championship playoffs the last of 24 races in the 2019 season. For Force, she’s having flashbacks of to her memorable playoff jaunt in 2017.
That year, she dueled with Torrence down to the wire, claiming the championship in Pomona and capping off her historic run with a victory at the Auto Club World Finals. Force won in Las Vegas in her Advance Auto Parts dragster to close the gap this year, and she knows another remarkable performance at the season-finale could give her a second championship in three years.
“The biggest difference this time around is I’ve been in the hunt for a championship before so I have a better idea of how to deal with the pressure,” Force said. “I’m lucky to have (crew chiefs) David Grubnic and Mac Savage in my corner. I’m very confident going into Pomona with this team and chasing down the 2019 championship. I work alongside the most dedicated, hard-working guys. I’m proud to be in the fight with them and wouldn’t choose anyone else going into Pomona. We’ve made big moves and turned a corner at the right time. There’s only one race left and we are looking to finish this year off with a championship.”
The same goes for Kalitta, who has the most wins (46) in NHRA history without a championship. After a fabulous career that’s spanned more than 500 races and included 100 final-round appearances, it’s one statistic Kalitta would love to change in his Mac Tools dragster. He’s been steady in the playoffs, advancing to two finals and a semifinal, but Kalitta is eager to claim a win at Pomona and do everything he can to claim a Top Fuel championship for the first time.
“We are just going to drag it out to Pomona and go after the championship there,” Kalitta said. “It will be a battle for the championship. We knew it would come down to the last race of the season. I am very excited to have this Mac Tools team on my side. We will all be ready to race for this championship.”
For S. Torrence, coming through in Pomona represents an opportunity to continue one of the most impressive stretches in the class. He has nine wins in 2019, including one in the Countdown to the Championship, giving the Texan 28 victories since 2017. That mark includes his historic run of winning all six playoff races a year ago, but it’s been a much tougher road this season. The drive to win a second straight title is apparent, but S. Torrence isn’t taking these moments for granted.
“We get everybody’s best shot and we wouldn’t have it any other way,” S. Torrence said. “It’s just a privilege and a blessing to be able to compete at this level with a family race team but we know how easy it is to go from hero to zero and vice versa. (Crew chiefs) Richard Hogan and Bobby Lagana (Jr.) have got a good handle on things wherever we go. I know when I go up there that I’m gonna have a shot – and that’s all you can ask for.”